There isn’t a person alive who is immune to worry about the opinions of others.
Unless you are a hermit living in a cave somewhere, interacting with others is a part of your daily life.
Because of this, we all need to navigate the needs, wants and opinions of those around us.
Yet, there comes a point where too much ‘managing’ of expectations can become crippling. We all have someone we want to be, and if we let the opinions and expectations of other people be the guide for our lives, then we end up as the average of everyone else.
I’ve learned over the years that placing too much weight on the opinion or guidance of any one person will have a detrimental effect, not only my level of success in life, but also my sense of fulfillment.
Why is this? Why does following the lead from others seem to make us feel less alive?
I think it’s because we are all born with an intrinsic desire to be unique. We all are born with a unique appearance, a unique voice and a unique way of seeing the world. I believe this uniqueness is built into our desires as well. We all want a life that is slightly tangential from those around us. Sometimes we want something completely different.
And you know what? That’s totally okay.
Yet along with this intrinsic desire to be your unique self, there is also a counterbalanced need to ‘fit’ into a society, culture, family, etc. As part of this we often choose to forfeit our true selves.
Personally, I really struggled with the idea of being myself for the early years of my adult life. I spent years crippled by the fears of what other would think. But as I grew a little older, and started taking more risks, I discovered some useful ideas that really helped to stop worrying what people thought of me.
1) Realize they actually don’t care that much
Several years ago, when I moved to another country, I felt that my head was somehow still stuck back overseas. It was strange, but I would spend a lot of each day thinking about what the people ‘back home’ would think of me, and how I was living my new life. Even though they had almost no influence on me directly, I still felt this need to live according to my old cultural norms.
Then one day, I had an epiphany. I realized that nobody else really cared what I was doing with my life. Or if they did, the level of emotion they had about me was minuscule.
When you first realize it, this is both an ego-killer and also an empowering fact. The fact that nobody cares that much what you do, say or how you live means you are fairly free to live as you want. A lot of the worry that we have is simply us thinking people care more than they do. When you realized they are more focused on themselves than on you, change becomes easier.
2) Encourage others to be themselves
A very counter-intuitive thing that I realized is that the more you encourage others to live their life in their own unique way, the more you’ll feel comfortable doing it too. Somehow it seems that giving permission to others also frees up your self-concept and allows you to be free as well.
It also has the affect of making others feel comfortable being themselves around you, which is an incredibly rewarding feeling. You also become a leader, somebody who others can trust to empower them.
3) The more you do it, the easier it gets
I’ve noticed that the more I put myself ‘out there’ in terms of doing the things I want to, the more people seem to accept me for it.
I remember when I started sharing my ideas on personal development. Even though it was a huge passion for me, I still felt self-conscious sharing them with friends, family and the world. But amazingly the more I wrote and shared them online, the better feedback I got, and the more I felt encouraged to keep writing and speaking.
Yes, a few people gibed me for “trying to be Tony Robbins” but for the most part people were incredibly supportive and admired me for it. Many of them thanked me for sharing my ideas.
Doing things you really want to do creates momentum. The feeling of progress and living life on your terms is one of the best ways I know to feel alive.
The more you do the things in life that are uniquely you, the more you’ll feel the power of who you are.
The bravest thing you can ever do, is to just be you.